Alternative Fueled Vehicles

Page updated on 3/18/17.

Updated information and added new photos

Welcome to the Alternative Fueled Vehicles page! This page was originally going to be housed within the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus fleet page. However, since many transit districts throughout the world now use hybrid-electric/diesel buses, I thought I would create a dedicated page for these earth-friendly vehicles. Portions of this page are also dedicated to Compressed Natural Gas (or CNG) vehicles, by which HART is gradually converting to, as well as various zero emissions electric buses that gradually becoming more available to the public transit industry here in the US.


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While not an alternative fuel, I do want to first talk about diesel-powered transit buses. Many older model transit buses utilize dirtier forms of diesel fuel that by which emit pretty nasty exhaust. Since 2008, many transit agencies have been moving towards cleaner forms of diesel fuels to help reduce the negative impacts that diesel exhaust has on the environment. Many transit bus manufacturers today. including Gillig, manufacture buses that are powered by clean diesel.

According to the Diesel Technology Forum

Clean diesel is the new generation of diesel made up of a three-part system that combines cleaner diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective emissions control technology. This new system ensures that clean diesel engines will continue to play a dominant role in the future while helping meet energy security, greenhouse gas and clean air objectives around the world.

While there is no doubt that diesel powered transit vehicles will be around for a long time, clean diesel technology is making diesel powered transit vehicles run much better and cleaner than their older traditional diesel counterparts.

At first glance, you'd be hard pressed to tell that this Gillig transit bus by PSTA is running on clean diesel. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to tell that this Gillig transit bus by PSTA is running on clean diesel. But it is! In fact, all of PSTA’s 2008-series bus fleet runs on clean diesel. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

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Now for the alternative fuels – Let’s first take a look at the hybrid-electric/diesel bus. These buses comprise of a traditional diesel-powered engine, coupled with an electric propulsion system. The electric component is a battery cell storage compartment that is housed on the roof of the bus. Both systems work with each other to help keep the bus moving along its route.

The Gillig Hybrid

I’m going to discuss primarily about the Gillig hybrid-electric/diesel bus in this section, since this is what HART, PSTA, MCAT, SCAT, HRT, and the Pittsburg Port Authority all use. The Gillig Hybrid bus development was started in the early 1990’s and was the result of years of research and testing which included field testing of many alternative fuel technologies (Methanol, Ethanol, Fumigated Ethanol, bio-diesel, CNG, LNG, LPG and Hydrogen fuel cells). The diesel hybrid was chosen as being the most promising new propulsion system with the fewest concerns and the most benefits.

The hybrid drive system is supplied by GM’s Allison Division, and uses the latest parallel drive technology which is more efficient than the traditional series systems. Long life, non-hazardous, and maintenance free NiMH batteries capture and store braking energy and advanced solid state controllers manage and blend power sources to optimize performance and efficiency.

How a hybrid-electric/diesel bus works.
How a hybrid-electric/diesel bus works.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit in Tampa, FL purchased three Gillig Low Floor hybrid buses in 2004. They sound just like their newer siblings because they utilize Allison transmissions, rather than their older siblings that are equipped with Voith transmissions. Originally, HART had intended to purchase more hybrids, but saw them as being too cost inhibitive, and instead opted to purchase CNG-powered vehicles. The three hybrids will eventually be retired, possibly as soon as later in 2017.

2425 sitting at a stop near Busch Gardens. 2425, 26,and 27 are the three Hybrid Diesel Electric buses. The bus does not shift like a regular bus in the sense that it doesn't seem to have gears. Nice and smooth, and the retarder works so well, you don't have to touch the brakes! Photo Credit: Shawn B.
HART bus #2425 sitting at a stop near Busch Gardens. 2425, 26,and 27 are the three Hybrid Diesel Electric buses. The bus does not shift like a regular bus in the sense that it doesn’t seem to have gears. Nice and smooth, and the retarder works so well, you don’t have to touch the brakes! Photo Credit: Shawn B.
It looks just like any other bus, until you look at that blue sky on the roof and that huge battery storage bank on the roof...2425 sitting at the garage ready to roll. As of February 22, 2010, all three hybrids are sporting the new blue & white livery. Photo Credit: Shawn B.
It looks just like any other bus, until you look at that blue sky on the roof and that huge battery storage bank on the roof…2425 sitting at the garage ready to roll. Photo Credit: Shawn B.
Finally, 2425 winds up at UATC to head to Tampa. Photo Credit: Shawn B.
Finally, 2425 winds up at UATC to head to Tampa. Photo Credit: Shawn B.
Here's 2425 one last time in the old livery by the USF Tampa Campus. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2010.
Here’s 2425 one last time in the old livery by the USF Tampa Campus. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2010.

Ah yes! A fresh new coat of paint! As of February 22, 2010, all three hybrids are sporting the new blue & white livery. However, HART kept the blue sky montage on the roof until the district can come up with a new design.

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#2425 in the new livery at the University Area Transit Center – Route 1.
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Same bus, different angle.
Here's the second hybrid bus, #2426, by the HCC Dale Mabry Campus. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2007.
Here’s the second hybrid bus, #2426 in the old livery, by the HCC Dale Mabry Campus. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2007.
#2426 on Route 36 at Britton Plaza.
#2426 on Route 36 at Britton Plaza.
Here’s the other sister, #2427, fresh out of the paint shop and heading back home. I guess she didn't have a good day today. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2010
Here’s #2427, fresh out of the paint shop and heading back home. I guess she didn’t have a good day today. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2010.
Here is #2427 finally in action after the repaint. Today it runs on the Route 2. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. May, 2010.
Here is #2427 finally in action after the repaint. Today it runs on the Route 2. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. May, 2010.
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#2427 was not having a good day on a northbound Route 19 run. It arrived at Britton Plaza a half hour late. #2504 was right behind it on the next scheduled northbound run.
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Despite the earlier setback, #2427 is able to complete its run to the Marion Transit Center. The operator most likely had customers who were heading to Tampa General Hospital and Hyde Park board #2504 and then ran express to downtown.
#2427 on recovery at the University Area Transit Center.
#2427 on recovery at the University Area Transit Center.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in St. Petersburg, FL has a whole line of hybrid buses, called the SmartBus. PSTA began to add these 35 and 40-foot buses to its fleet in 2009, and as of 2015, roughly 30% of PSTA’s bus fleet is comprised of these awesome Gillig Low Floor hybrid buses, with some of them being trolleybuses and the remainder possessing the sleek BRT design.

Unlike HART’s hybrids, most of PSTA’s hybrids are powered by the BAE Systems’ HybriDrive system. Only the 2014 (14100-series) bus fleet is powered with Allison H 40 EP hybrid system.

The back of PSTA bus #10105 (Gillig Low Floor Hybrid-Electric Diesel). Photo taken by HARTride 2012 - February, 2014.
The back of PSTA bus #10105 (Gillig Low Floor Hybrid-Electric Diesel BRT design). Photo taken by HARTride 2012 – February, 2014.
#15103 at Gateway Mall.
#15103, a 2015 Gillig BRT HEV, at Gateway Mall.

Technological advancements in the BAE HybriDrive system have made buses run even more efficiently than their older counterparts. With the 2016 (16100-series) buses, the battery is in full operation while the bus is traveling below 25mph. Once the bus exceeds that speed, or if the battery depletes below 60%, the diesel engine will kick in and recharge the battery. Operators had to receive special training on these buses because when the bus is idle, the engine will make a vibrating noise as if it was shutting off. However, the bus is still running even when in idle. This advancement creates a much quieter ride than its older counterparts, even when the diesel engine is running.


Manatee County Area Transit in Bradenton, FL also possesses a fleet of sleek 35 and 40-foot Gillig Low Floor BRT design hybrid buses, also powered by the Allison H 40 EP system. MCAT added these buses to its fleet in 2009, with many of them being used along the joint MCAT/SCAT Route 99 (though they are sometimes assigned to other routes depending on demand).

MCAT #55307 on Route 99 in Sarasota.
MCAT #55307 on Route 99 in Sarasota.

Sarasota County Area Transit in Sarasota, FL also possesses a fleet of sleek Gillig Low Floor BRT design hybrid buses. SCAT added ten 35-foot buses in 2006, with four more added in 2009, and six in 2011 (three 30-foot and three 35-foot buses). All of the hybrids are powered by the Allison H 40 EP system.

SCAT bus #602 waits at the Downtown Sarasota Transfer Center. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. May, 2008.
SCAT bus #602 waits at the Downtown Sarasota Transfer Center. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. May, 2008.
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The back of SCAT bus #602. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. May, 2008.
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One of SCAT’s newer hybrids, #903. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. September, 2011.

Hampton Roads Transit in Norfolk, VA also possesses a fleet of sleek Gillig Low Floor BRT design hybrid buses. HRT began to add these buses to its fleet in 2008, with some of them being assigned to the seasonal Virginia Beach WAVE shuttle service, some being used for the Route 17 Downtown Norfolk Loop, and some being deployed to other local bus routes throughout Hampton Roads. These buses are powered by the Allison H 40 EP system.

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HRT bus #4023 running along the Route 17 Downtown Loop. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) Hybrid Buses

The RATP in Paris, France operates several different models of hybrid-electric/diesel buses, though some models are not widely used within the network. In recent years, some buses have been purchased by the regional transit operator, Syndicat des transports d’Île-de-France (or STIF). STIF buses are identifiable through their grey livery with the STIF logo on the side.

Below is a list of the makes and models of hybrid buses that the RATP operates, and how many of each model operate in revenue service. This list was compiled during the month of April/May, 2013, and comes from the website http://www.busiloe.fr/, which is in French.

Standard buses

  • Heuliez GX317: 4
  • Renault Agora: 1012
  • Irisbus Agora line: 414
  • Irisbus Citelis line: 884
  • Irisbus Citelis 12: 474
  • MAN NL 223: 205
  • MAN Lion’s City: 121
  • Mercedes Citaro: 68
  • Mercedes Citaro facelift: 82
  • Scania Omnicity: 221

Articulated buses

  • Renault/Irisbus Agora L: 209
  • Irisbus Citelis 18: 156
  • Irisbus Crealis 18: 2
  • MAN Lion’s City G: 157
  • MAN Lion’s City GL: 16
  • Scania Omnicity: 11
  • Heuliez GX427 Hybrid: 1

Now to some photos of the RATP buses. I’ll only distinguish between articulated and non-articulated buses for now, but I may be able to get a few more posted here soon. All photos listed in this sub-section are courtesy of Minato.

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One of the many Man Lion’s City standard (non-articulated) hybrid-electric/diesel buses (not sure if this is a G or GL model though) that traverse the streets of Paris. Notice how the battery compartment is towards the front of the bus, rather than towards the back. Photo Credit: Minato.
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You’ll notice how this is an STIF-purchased bus. Photo Credit: Minato.
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A Heuliez GX427 hybrid-electric/diesel articulated bus running on Route 91. This is currently the only bus of this particular model that is in revenue service. Photo Credit: Minato.
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Notice that this too is an STIF-purchased bus. Photo Credit: Minato.

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You might not see, let alone hear about, too many bio fueled transit buses here in Florida, but they do exist. In fact, here in Tampa Bay, the University of South Florida Tampa Campus shuttle system, the Bull Runner, has all of its transit vehicles powered by Biofuels.

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A refurbished Gillig Low Floor transit bus (originally from LeeTran) is used on the USF Tampa Bull Runner system. All of Bull Runner’s transit vehicles are powered by biofuels. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

 

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Compressed Natural Gas is becoming a popular alternative to traditional and even clean diesel-powered buses. CNG utilizes Methane gasses that are stored at high pressure. Compared to diesel and propane (LPG), CNG emits fewer undesirable gasses and is safer than other fuels in an event of a spill (Source: Wikipedia).

Many transit agencies on the US West Coast, as well as in the New York City metro area, and throughout Europe use CNG-powered buses and/or Paratransit vans.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit in Tampa, FL currently has a fleet of 28 CNG-powered cutaway vans and 22 CNG-powered Gillig Low Floor transit buses. The cutaway vans entered revenue service during the course of 2014 and the transit buses are transitioning into revenue service at this time, replacing the aging 2001 and 2002 series buses. Depending on funding levels, more CNG-powered vehicles could be coming to HART in the coming years.

HART’s conversion to CNG-powered vehicles is all thanks to a $2.3 million dollar federal grant that was awarded to HART back in November, 2011, a CNG fueling station was constructed at the HART Operations Center on 21st Ave in Tampa during the course of 2013/14.

HART's new CNG-powered Paratransit van at its 7th Ave, Ybor City offices. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 - February, 2014.
HART’s new CNG-powered Paratransit van at its 7th Ave, Ybor City offices. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 – February, 2014.
#1502 sits at HART's operations center in Tampa, awaiting its CNG decals. Photo Credit: HART.
#1502 sits at HART’s operations center in Tampa, awaiting its CNG decals. Photo Credit: HART.
Here's HART #1516 along Swann Ave in South Tampa. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
Here’s HART #1516 along Swann Ave in South Tampa. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
#1522 at Britton Plaza, Route 19.
HART #1522 at Britton Plaza, Route 19.

The Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) also has a fleet of Renault Agora CNG buses, as pictured here in Southwest Paris.

One, two, three of these awesome CNG buses, waiting for passengers to load. Photo Credit: Minato.
One, two, three of these awesome CNG buses, waiting for passengers to load. Photo Credit: Minato.

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ZEPS (Complete Coach Works)

The Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) ZEPS bus. Photo Credit: Zac Ziegler.
The Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) ZEPS bus. Photo Credit: Zac Ziegler.

Switching gears now, let’s talk about the new Zero-Emissions Propulsion System (or ZEPS) bus. The ZEPS bus is a an all-electric bus that uses an electric engine and Lithium-Iron Phosphate batteries to power and operate the bus, which is very much different from hybrid-electric/diesel buses. The ZEPS bus project is being undertaken by Complete Coach Works (CCW) based out of Riverside, CA. One of the unique things about a ZEPS bus is that these buses are not swanky brand new buses that are just coming out of the manufacturing process. Rather, these are refurbished/rebuilt buses that are having their diesel components replaced by ZEPS components.

The first such transit bus to be able to hit the road is a a once-retired 1996 New Flyer Low Floor bus that was recently rebuilt with the new technology. This bus was recently tested out by the New York City MTA and is CCW’s prototype ZEPS bus. The second ZEPS bus to be produced is a 40-foot Gillig Low Floor bus that is owned by Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) in the Tri-Cities, WA area. This Gillig bus was delivered to BFT in May, 2013 and has been in regular revenue service since June, 2013. Now, I will have to admit, I’m pretty new at explaining everything about the ZEPS Electric Bus, so I’ll allow my fellow transit blogger Zac Ziegler explain more about this new bus and how it works. Please click the links below to read up on his blog posts.

For technical details; click here to visit the CCW ZEPS bus page.


BYD Motors

The BYD E-Bus at the Ben Franklin Transit Operations Center. Photo Credit: Zac Ziegler.
The BYD E-Bus at the Ben Franklin Transit Operations Center. Photo Credit: Zac Ziegler.
A later model BYD bus embarked on its Florida tour in September, 2015, making stops in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Miami.
A later model BYD bus embarked on its Florida tour in September, 2015, making stops in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Miami. New Photo!

Another electric-powered bus that has recently hit the road in Washington state is called the Build Your Dreams (or BYD) E-Bus. This bus is similar to the ZEPS bus above, but utilizes different technologies. This bus is manufactured by BYD Motors, and has so far made rounds at the Spokane Transit Authority in Spokane, WA, and is now preparing to make rounds at Ben Franklin Transit in the Tri-Cities, WA area.

If you want to follow the progress of both the ZEPS and the BYD E-Bus, please check out the Transit 509 website, where Zac is periodically posting updates. You can also follow @Transit509 on Twitter.


Proterra Inc.

A StarMetro operated Proterra bus at the C.K. Steele Transit Plaza in downtown Tallahassee. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. October, 2014.
A StarMetro operated Proterra bus at the C.K. Steele Transit Plaza in downtown Tallahassee. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. October, 2014.

During my trip to Tallahassee, FL in October of 2014, I discovered the Proterra Electric Bus. The city’s transit agency, Star Metro, has five of these buses in its fleet. Proterra was formed in 2004 and prides itself on manufacturing transit buses that are powered by alternative fuels, specifically…batteries. Yes, these buses are powered by batteries that are stored underneath the floor of the bus. The company is based out of Greenville, SC, with an office in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are currently nine other cities in the US that are testing the Proterra Electric Bus, including King County Metro Bus in Washington State. In May of 2015, Proterra brought a demo version of its newest transit bus, the Proterra Catalyst, to St. Petersburg, FL for a quick ride around the Gateway area.

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On May 21, 2015, Proterra Inc. brought down its newest battery electric bus, the Proterra Catalyst, to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority HQ in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

New Flyer

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In the last couple of years, New Flyer Industries – a powerhouse for heavy-duty transit buses in the US and Canada, introduced the battery electric variant of its highly successful Xcelsior brand of transit buses. Its demo bus has traveled to many US and Canadian cities and so far has signed on with Winnipeg Transit in Canada, and the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in the US. As of February, the Chicago CTA has been very satisfied with the two introductory units that they’ve been testing on their system and have announced that they will purchase more of them in the coming months. This news came on the heels of the New Flyer demo unit making rounds in the Miami-Dade area before spending a day with PSTA.

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More to come soon!

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